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18th Jan 2020

State aid on roads harms EU climate battle

  • Funding for more and better roads is hampering the bloc's green goals (Photo: EUobserver)

EU member state road transport subsidies are hampering the bloc's efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions, the European Environment Agency says in a new report launched on Monday (26 February).

The report found that between €270 and €290 billion is spent annually in Europe in transport subsidies. Almost half of these subsidies go towards roads, one of the least environmentally friendly modes of transport.

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"Although not all these subsidies can be labelled as environmentally harmful, some of them are," the agency wrote in its report Transport and Environment: on the way to a new common transport policy.

The report also called for European transport policy to deal with the spiralling demand for transport. Between 1990 and 2003, passenger transport in the EU plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, Switzerland and Turkey grew by 20 percent while air transport grew the most - 96 percent - during the same period.

Whereas emissions from most other sectors - such as energy supply, industry, agriculture, waste management - dropped between 1990 and 2004, emissions from transport increased substantially driven by this increase in demand.

Luxembourg and Ireland experienced the greatest increases in emissions from transport, excluding marine transport and aviation, with rises of 156 percent and 140 percent respectively between 1990 and 2004.

Earlier this month, the European Commission came forward with a proposal for limiting carbon dioxide emissions from new cars to 130 grammes per kilometre from 2012 and the bloc is also seeking to introduce more clean fuels such as biofuels.

But the agency says such measures are insufficient. "Improvements within energy efficiency of different means of transport and the introduction of renewable fuels are not sufficient to offset the growth of transport volumes," it writes in the report.

"This tendency threatens both Europe's and individual EU member state's progress towards their Kyoto targets. Therefore, additional policy initiatives and instruments are needed," the report says.

The EU has in the International Kyoto Protocol pledged to reduce its combined carbon emissions to eight percent below 1990 levels between 2008 and 2012.

Jacqueline McGlade – head of the Copenhagen-based agency – said that the EU "cannot deal with the increasing greenhouse gas emissions, noise pollution and landscape fragmentation caused by transport without dealing with the increasing traffic…on our roads and railways, in the air and by sea."

"Technical advances, such as cleaner, more fuel efficient engines are very important but we cannot innovate our way out of the emissions problem from transport." she said, in a statement.

The agency welcomed the commission proposal to include the aviation sector in the EU emissions trading scheme but added that it could be seen as a first step to reduce the climate impact of air transport.

"However, the sector is expected, to a great extent, to buy allowances on the market instead of taking action to reduce the emissions," it added.

The report also examined the problem of pollution from transport and its effects on health. About a quarter of the population of the EU25 live less than 500 metres from a road carrying more than three million vehicles per year. As a result, the agency said, nearly four million life-years are lost each year because of high pollution levels.

The EEA will release a detailed study of EU transport subsidies in March 2007.

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